The Schulz Neighborhood Market
Before: Abandoned and empty
After: Conceptual view of the finished project
My partner and I have sought to acquire this property for nearly all of the ten years it has been vacant. We have always envisioned a community use for the retail space, the room behind the 19th century storefront. But the plan that is coming together with the help of a few community stakeholders is just breathtaking in how it combines historical uses, good urbanism, community empowerment and unfilled consumer needs.
Adding to that, the efforts and resources of stakeholder organizations, an opportunity to build an organization with the space to experiment, learn and grow, and a drive to build a more self-sustaining future for the neighborhood are just icing on the cake.
Our plan for a market begins with a simple, obtainable entrypoint, and allows it to evolve and grow over time with acceptable increments of risk. The development roadmap must be feasible, with key participants committed to supporting the project before approval. Approval must turn on feasibility of (1) the entrypoint, and (2) the roadmap, and not on specific, committed uses or lessees for the space. And some flexible, “outside the box” thinking and acceptance of risk should be agreed to as part of the approval process.
What is a neighborhood market?
Material for this section has been taken from “Public Markets and Community Revitalization”, Theodore Morrow Spitzer and Hilary Baum. Published by Urban Land Institute (ULI) and People for Public Spaces, Inc. (PPS). And by “The Great Neighborhood Book”, by Jay Walljasper. Published by PPS.
Neighborhood markets are public markets that are located in neighborhoods, are operated by members of the neighborhood primarily for the benefit of that neighborhood. They often begin by re-purposing some historically significant space that is central to the community, to serve as the location for the market. Such markets are often operated by a non-profit organization on behalf of vendors who are often members of the surrounding community. Vendors share the cost of operating the market, including rent and utilities, advertising and promotional or seasonal events. The market offers business incubator functions such as business training, planning and promoting. The combination of sharing costs and access to incubator functions make starting a small business as a market vendor easy and more likely to succeed.
Markets are not always huge overnight successes:
“Many of today’s large, successful public markets have evolved from modest beginnings, with little initial capital investment.” (Spitzer and Baum)
Here is a typical set of goals for community markets:
1. Create a focal point of community activity
The heart and soul of a community is often a place designed around food. (Walljasper)
2. Provide farm-fresh produce and high-quality crafts and prepared foods to residents, especially for recipients of WIC coupons
Markets can include all kinds of interesting vendors, including farmers, crafters, fresh-food merchants, prepared-food vendors, or flea vendors (Spitzer and Baum)
3. Stimulate and nurture small businesses, especially entrepreneurs from the community.
“Few other places offer the opportunity to enter retailing with so little risk or capital.” (Spitzer and Baum)
“In 1992 a group of students created a garden at Crenshaw High School and started selling their produce in the Los Angeles area. In 1994, ‘Food from the Hood’ introduced a salad dressing that is now distributed in supermarkets throughout the state. Profits are donated to the needy and provide scholarships for the student owners.” (Spitzer and Baum)
4. Create a venue for local artists.
5. Provide a forum where health providers, educators, and nonprofit organizations can promote their programs and provide direct services.
6. Highlight the ethnic and cultural diversity within the city.
“This merchant specializes in groceries of particular interest to Latino consumers.” (Spitzer and Baum)
7. Bring people together in a vibrant, interactive outdoor activity.
“Tables and chairs encourage patrons to spend time at the market.” (Spitzer and Baum)
Benefits to the community
1. Establishing a public market at a central location in the neighborhood is good urbanism. A reinvigorated store at this location would support high density, diversity, mixed use, and walkability.
“Unlike festivals and special events, markets actively use a public space on a regular basis, thus making an area safer. Some markets have displaced undesirable street activities, such as drug dealing, thereby reclaiming formerly unsafe places through the positive activity of the market.” (Spitzer and Baum)
“Urban visionary Jane Jacobs reminded us that our ‘eyes on the street’ are more important than police in preventing crime.” (Walljasper)
2. It would improve the self-sufficiency of the neighborhood by creating economic activity locally. It would catalyze neighborhood investment, contribute to redensification and reduce the overall need for government services.
“Mart 125, an indoor market on 125th Street in Central Haarlem, is focused on the revitalization of this neighborhood in upper Manhattan.” (Spitzer and Baum)
3. By linking with community garden programs, markets can reward sustained, well-organized gardening projects by offering an opportunity to sell their food at the market. Active community-supported gardens often become an effective hedge against the disenfranchisement of youth in inner-city neighborhoods by creating meaningful work for young people.
“Las Parcelas, a project in North Philadelphia. Growing vegetables has replaced dealing drugs at many vacant lots in North Philadelphia, much to the relief of local residents.” (Walljasper)
Benefits to vendors
Renting space at a market can be a great way to start a small business:
“Public markets are natural business incubators. Because public markets offer small, affordable spaces, they attract first-time businesses that can benefit from the market environment and from the assistance provided by other small businesses and market management. Some markets help their vendors make the transition to permanent, leased space elsewhere. Formal incubation programs at public markets provide training and support, improving a vendor’s chances for success.” (Spitzer and Baum)
Public markets offer budding entrepreneurs things they cannot create by themselves: viable locations in which to sell their products or services, coupled with shared marketing and promotional programs that attract customers to the market. (Spitzer and Baum)
Benefits to customers
Markets can bring great, new things to low-income neighborhoods, including fresh produce, free nutrition information, participation in WIC, vendor recipes, and special events such as cooking demonstrations.
“Special events expand the shopping experience for market customers and provide a focus for publicity, helping to keep the market experience fresh for all participants. These include seasonal festivals and holiday events, special tastings, face painting, live music, recipe competitions, hayrides, petting zoos, and other attractions.” (Spitzer and Baum)
Chefs holding a cooking demonstration using ingredients sold at the market. (Spitzer and Baum)
Kids enjoy market events too. (Spitzer and Baum)
II. The case for retail
Learning from history
To study Conkey Avenue as a successful, sustainable place, I went back to a time, uninfluenced by boom or bust, when the residents of our neighborhood were, as they are today, less affluent and less mobile than the mainstream American consumer is nowadays – to 1900 – to gather data on the location, types of merchandise and configuration of mixed-use structures with successful neighborhood retail on the first floor. I wanted to know what Conkey Avenue businesses looked like, back in the day, to better understand the differences, then and now.
Unfortunately, I don’t have images to show you of what that world was like. But here is an image in numbers. In 1900, there were 13 businesses located on Conkey Avenue, all of them either on an intersection or just next door. Five of the six intersections in 1900 had at least one business. Conkey Avenue was a bustling place. Of the 13, nearly half (6) were at Conkey and Clifford:
Imagine – six businesses at a single corner in an inner city neighborhood!
Why this intersection? A glance at a street map tells the story. Clifford Avenue, then as now, is a major artery, unlike the others, connecting all neighborhoods in the city’s northeast:
What kinds of businesses located here? Here are the retail categories from 1900:
Note: Each business is roughly 7 to 8 percent of the total.
Check this out: 5 groceries and 3 general stores in the space of 6 blocks! Astounding!
And finally, the occupancy. Twelve of the thirteen businesses had at least one dwelling over the store:
So the typical Conkey Avenue business in 1900 was located at Clifford Avenue, sold food or general merchandise, and had 1 or perhaps 2 apartments over the store. Sound familiar? It should. It pretty much describes the Schulz store, past and future.
If the Conkey Avenue uses of 1900 are a model of sustainable urbanism, what changed? What is different in 2010? These are reasonable questions to ask. For answers, I turned to the gold standard of modern urban planning, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, by Jane Jacobs.
To Jacobs, diversity – in ethnicity, income, age, that sort of thing – is the goose that lays the golden egg. There are 4 preconditions: (1) High density, (2) Mixtures of primary uses, (3) Short, walkable streets, (4) Buildings of mixed ages and conditions. Conkey Avenue once had all these things. How do I know? Stretching from Scrantom Street at the south end, to Norton Street on the north end, this corridor is entirely encapsulated within the community, ie, no through traffic by design. So what’s to explain the storefronts on nearly every corner (most now gone)? To me it means the density and walkability of the neighborhood itself were sufficient for retail, not just by re-purposing existing houses into shops, but as bricks-and-mortar investments in dedicated retail structures. So it was profitable, repeatedly over time, to build a store that would only serve the surrounding neighbors. It seems Conkey Avenue was a vibrant, localized retail corridor in its heyday. It had everything a healthy community has. Kind of amazing when you think about it.
Doing what I do, I think a lot about diversity, or specifically, how to bring it back. Healthy places are generators of diversity. What’s missing? Or in the case of Conkey Avenue, what in Jacobs’ formula has been lost? Diversity in the stock of structures? Somewhat lacking, but still diverse. Density? Trending downward, but still dense. Walkable streets? Some room for improvement, but yes, we’ve got that. But where are the walkable destinations? Why should adults walk when there is nothing to walk to? While the other supports are important, mixed use retail is the one leg of the stool that has almost entirely disappeared since 1900. In a traditional, working-class neighborhood, places of business WERE the amenities, the mixtures of use.
One further point. To me, what “Death and Life” is really saying is that vibrant neighborhoods, like vibrant cities are ones that provide lots of chance encounters between lots of diverse purveyors and lots of diverse consumers of goods, services or experiences. (Think Park Avenue, Monroe, or increasingly, South Avenue in the Wedge.) It’s what being vibrant is. But there is a circularity to this, a chicken-and-egg relationship between diversity and vibrancy. Each sustains the other, so you’ve got to create both at once. And if you are working from scratch, all you’ve got to work with are the existing assets and the existing residential base. So the challenge comes down to getting existing residents out of their houses, circulating around, going places, doing things that liven up the streets. You can’t do this just by selling stuff. You’ve also got to create experiences – ones that are repeatedly interesting and engaging to residents.
Diversity and vibrancy properly in sync: Thriving neighborhood stores in thriving Rochester neighborhoods in 2010. Courtesy of Howard Decker
In the next section, we’ll see how the need for walkability fits hand-in-glove with some interesting retail opportunities.
Opportunities in underserved retail categories
Before talking about creating walkable retail experiences, let’s take a look at our consumers. There are 3 overlapping tiers, or types of consumers. The first tier consumer lacks a high school diploma (50%), doesn’t work (60%), doesn’t drive (40%), rents his or her dwelling (75%) and likely gets by with less than $15,000 in annual income (35%).
Here’s the raw data, courtesy of Susan Lindsay, Economic Development Project Manager for the City of Rochester …
The second tier finished high school, rents, drives to work (at least 35% work within the city) and lives in a family household (67%).
A third tier may have some higher education (15-20%), has a job and owns his/her home (25%).
To really succeed, a market has to appeal to each demographic group in the neighborhood in some way. To interest the first tier, the market must serve a basic need at an affordable price. The market’s core purpose as a redistributor of fresh foods, payable with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card will draw this tier into the store. The second tier might respond to family-oriented events and activities, or the possibility of meeting other families. The third tier wants an interesting experience. To bring them in, create a vibrant street presence, delightful sensory experiences, people to watch, a place to sit and enjoy some food.
Now let’s look at supply and demand for some common retail items:
The two charts show unmet demand for two categories (durable and non-durable items), and two study areas (quarter mile radius versus half mile radius). Within a quarter mile radius, most items are not supplied at all (100% unmet). No surprise – there aren’t any stores in our neighborhood other than corner convenience stores. But if we increase the study area to a half mile radius, notice what happens.
First, the unmet demand for most bulky, “durable” or family-oriented items (non-walkable purchases) – furniture, groceries, appliances and full service food, for example – drops significantly, even to zero in some cases. There are stores somewhere in the wider study area that are supplying these categories. So you would expect stiff competition for these items if a store selling them opened in the neighborhood. You also need a vehicle to get those purchases home. Once that 60% of households gets into their car, they might as well go to WalMart. Not a safe bet.
Now look at the “non-durables” – the smaller, less expensive, more consumable items. These I call “walkable” purchases because they are more of an impulse buy, ones that can be carried home. These are in categories like jewelry, clothing and accessories, supplies, gifts and souvenirs, toys, and limited service or specialty food. These items remain largely unsupplied, even in the wider study area. My guess is, the retailers haven’t overlooked these items, rather the demand in dollars just doesn’t justify an entire store within the study area.
Now for some analysis. I’m no expert in the wiles of retail investment, but it seems safe to assume that the lack of retail outlets for the durable, bulky items exists because the costs are prohibitive somehow. Ditto for the non-durables, right? Maybe not. Do you ever see a store for small items by itself, away from other venues? Not really. They pop up near other outlets – at the mall or along retail corridors, for example. It seems our unmet demand for non-durables has a hook. Granted, you might occasionally head for a Hallmark gift shop – perhaps a few times per year. Where do they get the rest of their business? From people wandering in on their way from Sears to Penneys. Even at the mall – heck, even at WalMart or Wegmans (think about end caps!) – these are still walkable, opportunistic purchases.
So the lesson for our neighborhood is, these retail opportunities have limits – they can’t be a whole store and they must be combined with other shopping destinations. And that’s why the concept of a neighborhood market works so well for these categories: shared facility, shared costs, low cost of entry, walkable purchasing within a larger experience – all of it. And that’s why the unserved categories remain unserved – no single-purpose store can supply them at a profit.
III. Implementation Plan for the Schulz Neighborhood Market
1. Planning – Identify key market components; Build support among stakeholders; Get commitment from participants for supporting the plan’s components.
1.1 Identify project components, stakeholders, participants.
Initial core tenant and supplier, Market component, Incubator and Micro-enterprise pieces, Rehab / building ownership component, Rehab funding piece
1.2 Approach key stakeholders and get commitment of support for the concept.
1.3 Approach key participants and get commitment of support for the project (food supplier, microenterprise center, business incubator component); what services will be made available to the project.
1.4 Determine how much planning for each component is needed for city approval.
2. Planning – Establish a core use; Identify participants; Obtain support
Bring in a core non-profit as the initial user of the space – a redistributor of fresh foods (Foodlink). Project Hope (non-profit community group) will assist in identifying uses for the space initially. Additional uses of the space may initially include meetings, storage of equipment for community gardening. Initially non-profit uses.
2.1 Justification: access to non-profit funding streams; use Foodlink to create demand for fresh food available within the neighborhood; develop local production of fresh foods; transition to sales of locally produced food and non-food items for self-sustainability
2.2 Tasks: Work with Foodlink to plan the transition to a fresh-food vendor within the market.
Foodlink gets a helper. Courtesy of Democrat and Chronicle
3. Set up market management component
Create a market entity and choose a manager to oversee choice of types of merchandise, recruit vendors, set up stalls. The categories may be taken from the retail demographic data. The choice of a general manager is key to the success of the market.
3.1 Work with convenience store owners nearby to ensure all businesses may benefit from the increase in activity around the market.
4. Evolution of market and incubator
4.1 Continue adding vendors, begin adding incubator functions: training, micro-finance, publicity; involve microenterprise centers; set up monthly sessions for vendors to meet and discuss challenges
“The market planner must try to formulate the right mix of products to attract the targeted customers, ensure adequate sales for the vendors, and fulfill the public purpose of the market.” (Spitzer and Baum)
4.2 Add promotional events, demonstrations (cooking, for example), recipe suggestions, musical performances, facepainting, limited service food, cafe tables, seating
Concert in the park on market day at Conkey and Clifford
4.3 Implement sharing of costs: ads, building costs, training, etc.
4.4 Publicize: use store windows, advertising
4.5 Add space: expand to garage, sidewalk, park, garden lot
4.6 Add locally grown produce, processed foods